The Solemnity of St. John Bosco

We celebrate on January 31st the Solemnity of St. John Bosco, who founded the Salesians of Don Bosco who give assistance and educate the poor children across the world.

Learning about St. John Bosco in Colombia

I remember when I first entered the catholic schools in first grade.  I wondered about the priests’ white cassocks and if these outfits made them closer to God.  There was a mysticism about their behavior and how they conducted themselves: adults with wisdom and knowledge who commanded respect and obedience, but also had a sense of humor and seemed kind, and easy to talk with.  I wanted to get close to them, but not too close.  Making the jump from a public kindergarten to a catholic school seemed to have enough unknowns.  I needed to make new friends, meet new teachers, learn about the new classrooms and the cafeteria.   I even wondered if the students at San Juan Bosco elementary in Cali, Colombia, South America, were different children from me, or whether they were they just like me.

With time, I became more comfortable in the new school environment.  I made new friends and became acquainted with my new teacher, who fortunately knew both English and Spanish.  When we moved to Cali, Colombia that year, I only knew English.  Learning Spanish was a challenge, but I made friends who were eager to teach me their language as much as they wanted to learn some words in English.  As I progressed in elementary, I came to appreciate the school’s teachings of compassion, kindness, and care for the poor.  With time, these virtues became a way of life for me, and today I thank Don Bosco for helping me be God’s instrument.

Who was St. John Bosco?

As we celebrate the Solemnity of St. John Bosco, I think about his life and the challenges he had during his mission.  Born Giovanni Bosco in 1815, he lost his father at the age of two and was raised, along with his 2 older brothers, by his mother Margherita.  They were a poor family in Turin, Italy, where John worked as a farmer and shepherd.  Despite their difficult financial circumstances and food limitations, they felt a strong sense of duty to feed the poor and hungry.  John became a priest at the age of 26 years, founded the Salesian Order in 1859, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934, giving him the title of “Father and Teacher of the Youth.”

Dreams became an important way for God to communicate with Don Bosco.  At the age of nine, he had his first prophetic dream where he found himself with a group of children who were being mean to each other, swearing and hitting each other.  A man whose face was filled with light and dressed in a white flowing mantle appeared and told him, “You will have to win these friends not with blows, but with gentleness and kindness.1” Thus began his vocation and dedication to children.  Later in his teen years, he learned to perform magic, acrobatics, and tricks after watching a circus perform in town.  He used these tricks to get children’s attention and then discuss with them the homilies from the mass.  At this point in his life, he discerned he wanted to become a priest.2

His style of work leaned on being patient, kind and understanding.  Another dream that he had of walking on roses and thorns helped him develop perseverance.  He needed this virtue to tackle the obstacles he faced through his mission.  Government officials wanted him out of the way as they saw the homeless children as a nuisance and a danger; the entrepreneurs from the industrial revolution saw him as an obstacle to using the children for manual labor; he opposed the political fanatics who wanted to recruit the young for political gains; the bishop opposed his work, misunderstanding Don Bosco’s passion for pride; people from the “house of sin” near his oratory saw Don Bosco as an obstacle to their “business.”

But he was able to persevere because of his life in prayer.  In particular, he had a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother.  His way with children and teens, along with his sense of humor and teaching abilities, allowed many orphans to learn about God and learn trade skills for later in life.  Today, the Salesian brothers are present in 1,830 institutions in 128 countries.2

We all care for children

When I think about the people and circumstances of life that played a role in my choosing to care for children, I think about those years at San Juan Bosco elementary in Cali, Colombia.  As I contemplate the gift that God has given me to take care of children, I also think about all of us parents caring for our children, and the love we give them just as Jesus and Mary show their love for us.

Putting the final touches on this blog, I think of Jesus with his disciples.  Jesus had left Capernaum and had gone into the region of Judea and across the Jordan.  Children were coming to Him, and the disciples were becoming annoyed and indignant.  Reading from the gospel of Mark:

He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.3


  1. Don Bosco film, Ignatius Press 2012, San Francisco, CA. Booklet text by Tim Drake and Anthony Ryan.
  2. and St. John Bosco
  3. Mark 10:14-16 in, NIV

The Development of Your Two-Year-Old

It seems like just yesterday your toddler was just a baby! Where has the time gone? Read on to learn about the developmental changes your two-year-old is experiencing – including the fine-tuning of gross and fine motor skills, expanding their vocabulary, and learning to play well with other kids.

The fall leaves have turned yellow, orange and brown. It seems that about half of them have fallen to the ground and you find yourself in your backyard chasing two-year-old Amelia through the leaves as she giggles and laughs, firmly believing that you cannot catch her. It was just last weekend that you celebrated her birthday party, and you wonder where the time has gone.

During her second year of life, you saw her refine her walking and then progress to running. As you chase her in the backyard, you acknowledge that she is actually a pretty good runner. You wonder if she could turn out to be a soccer player, just like you! During their first two years of life, Amelia has focused a lot of her developmental energy on conquering gross motor skills (like walking and running) and fine motor skills (like holding a spoon and feeding herself). She has developed a sense of satisfaction with herself, which has led to building some self-confidence.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to contrast her present psychological state against her restless and insecure state as a one-year-old, maybe you could look at the way she walks into a room. Her chin is usually up, she often has a smile, and she wants to know if you are ready to play the next game of matching shapes. The constant repetition of doing a task and seeing herself conquer it has established a platform from which she feels she can master any situation. For you as a parent, this has become a great opportunity to continue to foster building her self-confidence. Your biggest challenge is trying to gauge what activities you can get her involved in so that she has a fair opportunity to see herself succeed.

Sometimes we feel stumped trying to come up with ideas on how to spend the day with her. Try:

  • Hot/Cold: Hide toys or objects throughout a room and use the words “warmer” and “colder” to help her find them.
  • Play Make-Believe: Have her sit on a blanket or towel and pull her around the house as if she is on a boat or train. Have her describe what she sees on her journey.
  • Taking Care of ‘Baby’: Have her dress a doll, talk to her doll, and take care of it – just like you take care of Amelia.

Find more ideas in this list of indoor activities from

As Amelia gets comfortable with her motor development, her energy shifts to speech development. Most children will have about two or three words in their expressive vocabulary at one year of age, gradually building to 25-50 words by age two. Whereas most of their development energy was concentrated on the motor skills during the first and second years of life, now her energy is going towards speech development. A big milestone at this stage is to be able to put two words together. In general, and there are always exceptions to the rule, girls are more likely to be around 50 words whereas the boys may be closer to 25 words. However, and something to look forward to, by three years of age both boys and girls vocabulary will explode to about 1,000 words and they will be talking in sentences!

Reading every day is a great way to expand her vocabulary. While you read, she hears you pronounce words as they relate to the story. She is also watching your lips and mouth as you enunciate the words. In the same way she used repetition to master her motor skills, she will often repeat words that you use to describe things. Start practicing the A-B-Cs so she can learn that words are made up of letters. Show her visually the letter as you say it. In time, she will learn from repetition and recognition. Amelia also finds colors fascinating. She has already developed a special interest in the color green – her “favorite color.” Teach her to count things as you introduce numbers to her. For example, at an outing, you could say, “How many kitty cats do you see?” and count with her. Or “How many balls do we have?” as you count one, two, and three. A fun way to use word repetition is by reading Dr. Seuss books and by rhyming in songs.

Socially, Amelia is moving from parallel play to sharing with others. Children at this age like to please parents so they can turn out to be big helpers. If you are wondering about her development at this age, check out the Ages & Stages Questionnaire for a two-year-old, which is labeled as ASQ-SE for Social Emotional Development. If you are adding a new baby to the family soon, the biggest challenge for a kid at this age is to redefine themselves. They have been getting all the attention up to this point and they may feel it is hard to share that spotlight. Take advantage of the fact they like to be helpers, and engage them as mommy/daddy’s helper for the new baby.

You may have noticed that sleep has been more peaceful lately. Amelia has been playing all day except for that middle of the day nap. Having a tired body lends for some good sleep at night. Bath time before getting into her jammies can be fun, too. Have her recall her day with you, and then play with her toys before getting out of the tub. If she is having a hard time relaxing after bath time, she might talk some more in bed before falling asleep – maybe telling a story to her bunny. Doing a bedtime story is another way to practice reading while also helping her relax before going to sleep. At this age, children usually need about 11-12 hours of sleep at night to be rested for the adventures of the next day.

One final item to address at this age: toilet training. There are three main ingredients that children need to start the process. Before beginning toilet training, kids should:

  1. Have some bladder control. For example, dry diapers after a nap.
  2. Be able to walk to the toilet on their own.
  3. Have the fine-motor control to help pull up and down their pants.

As long as they have the three skills above, it’s all about the psychology of being ready to go in a toilet – and this comfortability varies widely from child to child. Personally, I give parents reassurance that I have yet to see a child not potty trained by the time they start kindergarten.

There are multiple sources out there on toilet training, but I must admit I am partial to Dr. T. Barry Brazelton. He is a well-known and nationally-recognized developmental pediatrician. His book, Toilet Training the Brazelton Way, and the described method seems very gentle while always keeping in mind that you are assessing your child’s psyche as you try to avoid the development of resistance and defensiveness.

As you get ready for Amelia’s well-child exam, take a look at typical developmental milestones for a two-year-old. I hope you have a great fall season!


More Developmental Milestones

Dr. Spitzer has authored more articles on developmental milestones you can look forward to in your young children. Check them out below!

The Independence of an 18-month-old

“No, no, no …”  It is not uncommon to hear this from an 18-month-old who is flexing his muscle to let you know he is in control. It seems like it was only yesterday that he was so complacent and easygoing: Feedings were always fun. He smiled if you smiled. And those belly laughs made you laugh … Where did it all go?

Once a child begins to walk, they develop a sense of independence where it seems like life has no boundaries. This behavior and the desire to explore is very impulsive and not well thought out. Consequently, and appropriately so, they investigate everything. They want to see how things work, how things taste, and they want to explore cause and effect – i.e. If I pull on this, what will happen?

Learning boundaries is very hard for toddlers because it puts a limit on their desire to learn. This is where we as parents come in to help keep them safe. However, where the lines get drawn for boundaries is where difficulties often arise. Some boundaries are very clear cut. For example, we would never let a toddler run in to the street. Other boundaries, however, can be a little more arbitrary and vary depending on our temperament and how compulsive and careful we are as parents. In addition, the child’s temperament also factors into the conflict of where to set boundaries. Throw in our emotions as parents, how busy was our day, and whether we had much frustration at work, and you can see where we may have a recipe for an explosion at home.

The key to helping a toddler sort through this phase is understanding where and when they need to learn self-control.

Toddlers experience positive emotions when they accomplish something – like climbing onto the couch without any help. Once they get up, they smile, get down and try to climb back up.  And then another smile appears across their face. These are good opportunities for them to see us approve of their accomplishment. This creates confidence and they learn they can get that from us. Also, in the moment, this will lead to cooperation and caring on their part.

On the other side of the coin are the negative emotions where there may be frustration because they could not accomplish their task. Despite multiple attempts, your little one sees the same negative outcome over and over again.  As T. Berry Brazelton – an American pediatrician, author and developer of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS) – explains, negative feelings must surface with positive emotions. Even we as adults experience this conflict of positive and negative emotions on a regular basis. It is this life-long conflict that children need to learn to live with, and in the process, learn self-control.

These battles where toddlers experience positive and negative emotions can bring on some insecurity. What initially started out as stranger anxiety around 6-9 months of age has now developed into separation anxiety. Your child feels the need to go forward and explore their surroundings, while always looking back over their shoulder to make sure you are still there.  Tantrums are likely to happen if you disappear momentarily from the picture.

In addition to the dynamics of positive/negative emotions and security/insecurity is the temperament of your child. A strong-willed child can display a lot of passion, which can make for some challenging days.

Here are some suggestions to help you guide your 18-month-old:

  • As best as you can, avoid having arguments with your toddler. As a parent, you should always try to remain in control. When you hit a point during the day where a decision needs to be made, rather than asking what your child would like to do, give them an option of two choices they can pick from. For example, at breakfast you could ask “Would you like cereal or pancakes?” The will feel satisfied when they choose an option, and you are satisfied because you can live with either option.
  • When an adverse situation comes up that could make you lose your cool, take a deep breath, exhale, and don’t say anything. Not reacting right away and taking a pause can defuse a situation that could otherwise quickly escalate and make both of you mad. In a very matter of fact tone, acknowledge the situation and move on to another option.  Toddlers have a short memory, giving you the opportunity to refocus on an activity.
  • Take advantage of your child’s desire to be grown up like you. “Can you help me pick this up?” or “Can you help me put this away?” will likely add to their satisfaction that they are behaving like a grown up. And of course, the compliment and thankfulness afterwards will bring a big smile to their face!
  • Learn the technique of ignoring to minimize negative behavior. If your child is doing something that is of small consequence, look the other way and let them learn from their mistakes. Once you see they have learned their lesson, you can reinforce that lesson with a simple, matter of fact statement.
  • Know when to intervene if you feel their behavior is escalating to a tantrum. Tantrums need to be addressed calmly and rationally by providing a “choice.” If your little one is really wound up, remove them gently from the situation and engage in a different activity. Assess if their scheduled needs have been met, i.e. feeding times, nap times, sleep or bedtime to get back on track.
  • With the same matter of fact tone, let them know they are doing a good job. It’s a good idea to praise the work your toddler does and try to avoid using “good boy” or “good girl.” Instead, “I like how you put the toys away, thank you!” can bring a smile to their face. Kids need to know they are accepted and loved just as they are, despite sometimes making mistakes.  But they are here to learn, and we can approve of that process!

More Resources

As you get ready for your toddler’s next well-child exam, take a look at  The AAP 18-month-old article to give you an idea of what questions you might like to ask at that visit. Also, take a look at the Ages & Stages Questionnaire for 18 months old to see where your child is with development. And finally, I found this Today’s Parent 18-month-Old article very educational in helping to enhance knowledge on parenting.



One Year Old Charlie

Happy Birthday Charlie, you are one year old!

The day has finally arrived to celebrate Charlie’s happy birthday!  You have the balloons out by the end of the driveway with a big 1 on them.  Your eyes carry you through pin wheels, teddy bears and yard signs as they line your walkway to the backyard.  Guests have arrived with their children, and grandma and grandpa have their favorite one-year old in their arms.  The trees in the backyard provide for great shade and the cool breeze this afternoon makes for a great celebration!

As parents, you step back for a moment to contemplate the scene and wonder how you ever got to this point.  Why, it only seemed like yesterday that this bundle of joy was so dependent on you for all the feedings, diaper changes and soothing to sleep.

The energy that goes into gross motor development

One of the biggest accomplishments for a one-year-old is learning how to walk.  The energy put into this accomplishment has been building for a long time.  Gross motor development in a child is very predictable, gradually developing strength from the neck and upper body as he learns how to hold his head steady by four months, to building core muscle strength so he can sit in a highchair by six months, and then developing those pelvic muscles and start to crawl by nine months.  Once he gets the idea that he can go places by crawling, he soon realizes that he can pull himself up on furniture, cruise along the furniture and eventually let go.  Those first few steps are exciting, not just for him as you see his facial expression of apprehension changing to smile and satisfaction, but for you as a parent as well as you feel so proud for his accomplishment.  Friends and parents must learn of this milestone, and we post it on Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook.

What is interesting about the development of this independence is that he truly believes he can conquer everything.  Going over safety and making sure one more time that your home is child-proof is of paramount importance.  You can get a good checklist at American Academy of Pediatrics Home Safety Checklist .

Refining Fine Motor skills

Along with gross motor development, your child’s hands and fingers have become better at handling objects, including the spoon and fork.  Depending on how tidy you like to be, you might feel compelled to provide food for him on his tray and let him use the spoon and fork.  Sometimes, your springer spaniel Murphy gets to have some extra treats when Charlie is in his highchair.  The pincer grasp, with his thumb and index finger, which probably started around nine months of age, is now fully developed as he picks up cheerios and crumbs without difficulty.  His dexterity has also developed so that he turns pages in a book with care, gradually moving away from that stage where he used to mouth the book.

Speech Development at one year

Speech development is just starting to take off.  He has been listening (receptive language) a fair amount and you get the impression he can understand a good amount.  However, expressive language always lags receptive language, and at this stage in his life, he has about two to three words in his vocabulary that you can understand.  His frustrations are frequent as you play guessing games with what he wants, and this will continue for the next year.  What is interesting is that if he has older siblings, they seem to understand him better and they frequently speak for him.

Problem solving and social development

His curiosity continues to push him to explore his surroundings.  He is learning the concept of space and how objects can go into boxes, and he can then take them out.  Object permanency is also taking place so you can hide objects from him, and he can search for them.  And finally, he is learning to scribble on paper as he holds a crayon with an immature grasp (using all five fingers).

Socially, he is still exhibiting some stranger anxiety which had initially sprung up around six to nine months of age.   But if friends and family members can gain his confidence, he can play and interact with them as he shares toys and passes them back and forth or throws a ball across the room.  He is also participating better in getting dressed as he offers you his arms and legs while you try to put on his shirt and pants.

One of the challenges in trying to understand his pushing people away is that sometimes this stranger anxiety mixes in with his sense of independence.  He wants to do things himself and his way.  If we can see this difference, we can then adopt a role of a helper when he is trying to do things his way rather than us moving back a step if he feels stranger anxiety.  The more you do things for him, the more dissatisfied he is going to be and the more likely you are to see some of his frustration.  Then, the temper tantrums will start and sometimes it is hard to get out of that cycle.

His negative energy can make you feel frustrated, and everything can move in a downward spiral.  A good tip of advice: give him space to do it his way and be encouraging and supportive.   A good effort on his part should be celebrated.  Positivity begets positivity and creates the beginnings of a life-long trusting foundation of parental support for the child’s independence and endeavors.

So, for now, it is time to celebrate this magical moment of turning one year old.  I like chocolate cake, how about you?


  1. Ages & Stages Questionnaire
  2. AAP Pediatric Patient Education, Home Safety Checklist
  3. Touchpoints, The Essential Reference, by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992.

Len Matano, M.D.

Dr. John Spitzer’s highly personal book, Finding God Again and Again, is part memoir, spiritual journey, interior reflection, and testimonial. That achievement is praiseworthy in itself. But for me, the heart and soul of his work are the prayers that close most chapters. Let it be known: Catholicism is not a religion of guilt, but one of humility—mortals kneeling before the God of infinite love in an attitude of right praise toward the one who creates and sustains our beings. Some of John’s experiences parallel my own, including having graduated from Kalamazoo College and returning to that town following medical training, and those certainly resonated with me. What will grab every reader who has ears to hear is his call to holiness, and his own path shines some light on the path. Thank you, John, for sharing your story.

Len Matano, M.D.
Author, Celtic Crossing

The Assumption of Mary

On this feast day of August 15th, I found myself meditating and contemplating our blessed mother, the Virgin Mary.  In our catholic tradition, we believe the Assumption Day commemorates the belief that when Mary died, purely and holy as she was, her body was “assumed” into heaven to be reunited with her soul, instead of going through the natural process of physical death and decay.  For us, in our state of imperfection, it becomes an invitation that we too can hope for and expect the resurrection of our bodies at the appropriate time so that our bodies can be reunited with our souls.

One of the more pleasant memories from my monthly meetings with my late spiritual director Father Fitz (Msgr. William Fitzgerald, 1931-2015) was sitting in a small alcove in his “house of discernment,” a house for students contemplating the priesthood, which lent for very personal conversations and silent prayer.  Just off to my left on one of the walls was a painting of Mary and Eve.  This original work was a crayon and pencil drawing created by Sister Grace Remington, OCSO, of the Cistercian Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.  I found the artwork so interesting in that Eve, represented by our fallen nature, so prone to making mistakes as we are often seduced by the material world and the dark side, was being consoled by Mary, who displays by her facial expression so much hope and mercy.  Mary looks at Eve with love, placing her right hand on Eve’s shoulder to soothe her and console her, while she takes her left hand to grab Eve’s left hand and places it on Mary’s womb, trying to help her connect with our Lord Jesus Christ.   Consider reading  Mary and Eve by Garrett Johnson to get a more in-depth understanding of this painting.  Using this picture as inspiration, I found myself in meditation and contemplation.

In the Jesuit style of prayer, I placed myself in a garden as a bystander, observing the interaction of Mary and Eve.  It is early morning, and the air feels a little humid on my arms, but there’s a freshness and crispness to the air while I breathe the wet bark of the trees and sweet smell of the lilies.  The green grass hovers the land and the dew makes my sandals wet.  I can hear the buzzing of bumble bees, the sharp peek and yeep of the robin, and the three-second, crescendo and decrescendo whistle song of the cardinals.  The rays of sun are just popping through the trees as they illuminate Mary and Eve in the middle of the grass.

I can relate with Eve.  The serpent has wrapped itself on her legs, dragging down her movement towards spiritual development and closeness with God.  Good and evil reside in me, and I struggle daily to do what is right.  I often don’t see with the eyes or hear with the ears of the heart so that I can be in tune with God.  Deep down, my heart and soul want to abide by God, but I get distracted often with what surrounds me.  In this state, I often feel the tug back and forth between doing the right thing and sometimes falling because I am impatient, or maybe I’m too quick to jump to a conclusion.

You can see from the painting that Eve feels sorrowful, perhaps ashamed.  Don’t we feel the same when we fall short of doing what is right?  Perhaps, I may feel hopeless and despair because pride gets in the way.  It becomes hard to accept my fault and I am tempted to hide behind the trees when God comes into the garden, calling out for me, “where are you?”

As depicted in the picture, Mary comes to me as she comes to Eve.  She places her hand on my shoulder and consoles me.   She takes my hand and has me touch her womb so that I can feel her son, Jesus.  It is an invitation for me to be in relationship with the Son of Man.

For as much devotion as we Catholics have to Mary, we really don’t know much about her from biblical readings.  And to the point, as Thomas Merton explains in chapter 23, “The Woman Clothed with the Sun,” in New Seeds of Contemplation, “She remains hidden.”  It is in this state of hiddenness where she exhibits her poverty in loving submission to the Lord, in pure obedience of faith.  This transparency allows her “to be the perfect instrument of God, and nothing else but His instrument.”  It is in this transparency that God flows through Mary, so pure with love and mercy.  It would be easy to think that Mary is in God and God is in Mary.

Lately, I have been feeling a pull to understand Mary better and pray to her that she may intercede on my behalf before God.  I read several years ago True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis De Montfort (1673-1716) and pulled it out again when we read in our men’s prayer group the chapter from Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.  As the back cover of the book states, “it explains the wonderful spiritual effects it can bring to a person as they search for sanctity and salvation.”  He emphasizes that Mary remains hidden and transparent as she brings us closer to her son, the Word incarnate.  And as St. Louis De Montfort explains, “the more the Holy Ghost finds Mary, his dear and inseparable spouse, in any soul, the more active and mighty He becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul, and that soul in Jesus Christ.”

This concept of “nothingness” is well explained by St. John of The Cross.  In his Ascent to Mount Carmel, he draws a picture and uses terms to explain how the soul can reach the top of Mount Carmel, where “only the honor and glory of God dwells in this mount.”  On either side of the middle aisle going to the top of the mount are terms that he considers undesirable.  On the left he states, “the more I desired to possess them (goods of heaven, glory, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.”  And on the right side of the graph he states, “the more I desired to seek them (goods of earth, possessions, joy, knowledge, consolation, rest), the less I had them.”  In the middle aisle on the way to the top of the mount, he writes, “nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.”  He wrote “nothing” six times, that’s how much poverty he felt was needed to experience God.

There were two key concepts that I gathered from Thomas Merton’s chapter:

  • Mary’s greatest glory was having nothing of her own, retaining nothing of a “self” that could glory in anything for her own sake. She placed no obstacle to the mercy of God and in no way resisted His love and His will.  He was able to accomplish His will perfectly in her.
  • All our sanctity depends on her maternal love. The ones she desires to share the joy of her own poverty and simplicity, the ones she wills to be hidden as she is hidden, are the ones who share her closeness to God.

As St. Louis De Montfort explains, we need Mary to be an example for us so that we can attain salvation, “and still the more necessary to those called to a special perfection.”  In addition, we can lean on Mary as our mother of humanity so she can bring us closer to Jesus: “Jesus Christ is the last end of devotion to Mary.”

With these thoughts, we celebrate Mary’s assumption to Heaven.  It is our hope that we too one day, by the grace of God, can dwell where she is.  As Merton states, “if human nature is glorified in her, it is because God desires it to be glorified in us too.”


  1.  Garrett Johnson
  2. New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. New Direction Books, 2007.  Original copyright by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc., 1961.
  3. True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis de Montfort, Tan Books & Publishers, Inc., 1985. Copyright 1941 by the Fathers of the Company of Mary.
  4. The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. Institute of Carmelite Studies, ICS Publications, 1991.

The Life in Christ

In our prayer group this past week, we had an opportunity to read Chapter 22, The Life in Christ, from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation.  It was a chapter rich with concepts as we discussed the mystery of Christ living in us.  There were some basic points that I gathered from the beginning of the chapter:

  • We respond in faith and charity to his love for us. God always initiates God’s love for us as we are God’s children.  It is up to us to respond to this call.
  • There is a supernatural union of our souls with His indwelling Divine Person. This is one of the harder concepts to accept and understand as we go to mass and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • We participate in His divine sonship and nature. Being sons and daughters of God, made in God’s image, we too get to embrace our divine nature if we are willing to accept this concept.  Acknowledging that we make mistakes in our lives, hopefully we can be merciful with ourselves with God’s love, and then be merciful to others around us as God is merciful with them too.

Taking a trip with the Bible

As I contemplated Jesus living with me, being in me, I was taken to  Chapter 17 (BibleGateway)  in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is participating with the apostles in the last supper and has just explained to them that he must depart so the Holy Spirit can come to them (Chapter 16).  As we head into the next chapter, it’s almost as if Jesus takes a deep breath and exhales, and then finds himself in gratitude and does his Highly Priestly prayer.  Here, I get to see how Jesus prays for me that we may be one with God the Father and God the Son:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflecting with Thomas Merton and Jesus

We become a new person, mystically and spiritually as one identity, who is at once Christ and me.  This union is the work of the Holy Spirit of Love.  Christ himself becomes the source and principle of divine life in me.

The challenges of life can make it hard to understand this mystical union.  When I contrast pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow, living in my body and dying a bodily death, it’s easy to lose faith.

It can be the hardest thing in life to rise above what seems to be external to me: work, friends, politics, the environment, financial security, war, poverty, among other challenges in life.  Not that they are not important to deal with as we try to live as a community, but they are external to my interior life.

For me to live in the joy of God, I must let my soul accommodate to God’s will.  As Thomas Merton says, “souls are like wax waiting for a seal.  By themselves, they have no special identity.  Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeliness to God in Christ.”

In addition to Merton, other saints (St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila) talk about a fire of purification so that our souls and will line up with God’s will.  There is a heat associated with this fire and it is easy to run away from it.  We don’t like it, sometimes if feels too hot.  It may seem like this is a major sacrifice and the easy way out is to continue to enjoy life on the surface.  But on the surface, we experience that contrast of pain and pleasure, hope and fear, joy and sorrow.

Interestingly enough, this sacrifice is commonly viewed as a hardship, a moral act, a work of virtue.  These thoughts and feelings come because we commonly feel the heat and fire of purification.  But it is Christ coming to me and dwelling in me as a mystical union that is the actual sacrifice, not the pain that I may endure during this process.  As Merton states, this sacred sacrifice “effects a divine and religious transformation in the worshiper, thus consecrating and uniting him more closely to God.”  If pain and discomfort is felt in this process, it is an incidental occurrence in proportion to our weakness and fallen nature along with its corresponding will power as in comes into conflict with God’s will.

When I receive the body of Christ, I experience this mystical union so that Christ and I become one identity.  In this mystical union, I experience the mystery of the Cross and with it, the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus.  This gives me hope and helps me look forward to my redemptive death and resurrection.  And when I attend mass, I do so in communion with my friends and relatives, who together as one body in Christ, we experience this mystical sacramental union in Christian charity and with the love of the Holy Spirit.

This mystical union transforms me, it changes my substance of who I am.  With this change, I move closer to the person God meant for me to be, fulfilling God’s promise that I can be God’s son imparting love, charity, and mercy to those around me.  By being their brother, I can help people become who they are meant to be, sharing God’s love in this process as God loves you as a son and daughter.


  1. New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton.  New Directions Book, 2007.  Original Copyright 1961 by the Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc.
  2. Bible Gateway,

So, You’re going to be a new parent?

First and foremost, congratulations!  You are going to be a new parent!

As you approach your baby’s due date, it is hard to believe the time has finally come. It’s common to experience a wide range of emotions at this time, including feelings of excitement to anxiety, and from confidence to feelings of insecurity. All of these thoughts and feelings are very normal!

It is certainly a time to rejoice, but just like any new adventure in life, there are always challenges. Here are some tips to consider as you get ready for the arrival of your new infant.

Take Care of Yourself Physically

Look at taking care of your new baby as a long run rather than a sprint. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you become a new parent:

  • Eat properly, healthy and at the right times. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids. Sometimes running low on fluids can affect our stamina, which can cause fatigue.
  • Sleep whenever you have the opportunity, particularly when the baby sleeps. It’s okay to take naps during the day because you will be up in the middle of the night with feedings and diaper changes.
  • Go for walks or try to exercise. Not only will this help you with your overall stamina, but it will be a good mental break. Just be sure to follow your doctor’s orders, and maintain a level of endurance close to the level you had before giving birth.

Take Care of Yourself Mentally

Treat yourself and your partner with kindness. It’s common for both of you as new parents to have anxieties at the beginning as your baby did not come with a manual. Here are some tips on how to navigate and deal with your uncertainties at the beginning:

  • Trust your instinct and adjust your expectations. Know that you are going to make mistakes and it will be okay. I find it amazing how resilient babies are despite the mistakes we make as parents.
  • Don’t forget to improvise on plan B. I heard this saying once and it has become a good way for me to operate in life. Sometimes our best laid plans don’t work out for reasons unforeseen. I then move to plan B and something else comes up that makes me improvise on that plan before everything works out. It takes patience!
  • Expect stress and therefore, learn to build resilience. Develop a belief that you can do it and before you know it, you will be conquering mountains!
  • Acknowledge there may be some feelings of uncertainty as you start to feel tired after the first four to six weeks of your baby being home. There’s an expectation you should be “happy” all the time, as everybody seems to be happy for you. However, you may also be wondering, “I can’t believe we are doing this.” You are not the only one to feel this way at this stage, and it will pass as your baby starts to become social and interact with you.
  • As a new parent, you are going to transform personally and will leave behind a little of that care-free person you used to be. Remind yourself, it’s okay to change.
  • Find your support group and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There will be some advice that makes sense to you, and some that will not. Use your common sense and acknowledge your limits on certain types of advice to know when to take it and when to leave it.

What Kind of Milk to Use?

Trying to decide between breast milk and formula can sometimes be a challenge. For some moms, this is not an issue as they may immediately feel comfortable with breastfeeding. However, for other moms and families this can be a challenge as there may be some uncertainty towards breastfeeding. Science has shown that breast milk is superior to infant formula, but the advances made on the development of formula has brought it pretty close to breast milk.

Rest assured, babies can grow up healthy whether on breast milk or on formula. In fact, if you were to line up a bunch of five-year-old’s going to kindergarten, you will not be able to separate who was breastfed and who was formula-fed.

Baby Development

It’s a good idea to understand baby development for the first few months as you gradually get physically and emotionally tired. Here are some key points:

  • The basics of baby care the first four to six weeks is about feeding, burping the baby, changing the diaper, and then having the baby go back to sleep. It’s easy to get physically exhausted doing this 24 hour a day, seven days a week. But right around four to six weeks of age, your baby will start to smile socially at you and will begin to communicate with you by making cooing sounds. This is exciting and adds a new dimension to your bond that makes parenting worth it!
  • Look forward to bonding with your baby. Similar to dating, you can learn about the baby’s temperament early on and what soothes them. Knowing how easily they can calm down after a noise (we call this habituation) and whether there were any difficulties during the pregnancy can help determine how noisy to let the house be. Stressful pregnancies, especially if drugs were involved, can lead to a baby that may “stress out” easily. This infant may need a quiet home for some time to gradually allow them to handle noise and stresses in the household. Some infants’ temperaments are such that, despite a normal pregnancy, they become irritated easily. These infants also may need to have their “daily dose” of household energy gradually increased, allowing the infant to adjust with time.
  • To create a relaxed and quiet environment in the house, try playing classical music. Not only will this be good for the baby, but you may also find yourself relaxed too!
  • Things will get easier after the first two months as your baby becomes more social and learns how to interact with you. In addition, after approximately four months of age, you can expect your baby to clock about 6-8 hours of sleep at night as they have doubled their birth weight and built up enough baby fat to maintain their blood sugar through part of the night.

Take Care of Your Partner

When parenting with a partner, working as a team is key to providing the best care possible for your baby. This means digging deeper into getting to know each other and trying to understand how you each react under certain circumstances. It is easy to accidently exclude your partner while taking care of the baby as you may subconsciously be thinking your way is better. Or it may be easy for you to become defensive as your partner suggests another option on handling a problem. Here are some questions to consider as you try to better understand one another and how you will blend your experiences/beliefs as you take care of your baby:

  • What was your home life like when you were a child?
  • How did your parents raise you?
  • How did your parents act when they ran out of patience?
  • Did your parents ever spank?
  • Did your parents have a good technique for handling stress?
  • Were both your parents involved in raising the children or was it a single parent mission?
  • Did your parents have any problems with anxiety or depression, and how did they cope with these mental health issues?

How About Daycare?

Planning daycare can be difficult. Dealing with the pain of separation is hard to measure as you contemplate your financial and professional needs. It’s common to experience feelings of anxiety as you explore daycare options. There is no correct decision, but only the one that suits your family, as stated by Robin McClure in Very Well Family, and as you gather information from family and friends. However, having a plan in place will relieve some stress as you near that time. And don’t forget, sometimes we must improvise on plan B!

Last but not least is one of my all-time favorite tips of advice: Don’t forget to keep dating! When parenting with a partner, the two of you are most important to each other and you need to continue to be on solid ground, making each other feel special.

If you have any questions or concern, your child’s pediatrician a call! Don’t have a pediatrician yet? Find one at

This article was first published at


Sacred Heart Of Jesus Round Up

The month of June is that time of the year where we can contemplate on the boundless and passionate love that Jesus has for us.  As I reflected on my integrity and humility, I decided to write and post a blog in Finding my Integrity with the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

I have been gradually learning about and have discovered a great social media to learn more about the ways we can express our love for God.  From quilts to books to shirts and coffee mugs, we can surround ourselves with all things God.  Celebrating this month with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, here a few more posts to look at.

Sacred Heart of Jesus Quilt Pattern by Jen Frost

Her talent for quilts is remarkable! Visit her site Faith and Fabric Design to learn about what the Sacred Heart of Jesus means to her and learn more about quilts for other occasions.

Live speakers with Lisa Martinez and Alyssa Sanchez

Lisa and Alyssa have a June program on Saints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with live speakers on 6/6, 6/13, and 6/20 (YouTube promo ).  Little with Great Love  also showcases several of their art and products (art print, pillows, embroidered hats, phone cases, t-shirts).

You can read Alyssa Sanchez’s post at Sacred Heart Round Up

What is the Sacred Heart of Jesus by Andrea Frey

Check out her post in 7 Must Read Posts About the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Catholic365

Amy Brooks and Prayer

Amy shares with us a very personal and special prayer in  PrayerWineChocholate .  Also, visit her site for books she has written for girls and boys to journal at Journal for Catholic Girls and Journal for Catholic Boys

The Sacred Heart and Michelle Nott

Michelle shares with us her experiences of moving as a youngster while her father was in the military on her site Raising Small Things with Great Love .  Her one constant in her moves was having a crucifix and a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust in you by Monica McConkey

Monica shares with us ways to stay in prayer during the day.  As she states in Sacred Heart of Jesus I Trust in You , “We are called to pray “Jesus, I trust in You” throughout the day, especially during times of struggle or doubt or fear.”

Development in your six-month old

At six-months-old, your baby is rapidly developing with new skills!

It’s Memorial Day weekend and your parents have decided to visit with you, your spouse, and little six-month-old Maggie. The trip from the east side of the state is two hours long but they are here, ringing the doorbell and excited to see their two favorite girls. You exclaim to Maggie that Nana and Papa are here, but she just looks at you. You pick up Maggie and upon opening the front door, you feel your heart fill with joy as you haven’t seen your parents in a couple of months. Nana flashes a huge smile, opens her arms and with a long, melodic “Hello” gives you a hug and takes Maggie. Papa relishes the moment as he sees Maggie smile, hold her neck and trunk steady while she uses her right hand to touch Nana’s face and then proceeds to bounce up and down in Nana’s arms.

The joys and wonders of a six-month-old are hard to measure. You just simply feel it in your heart and wonder how did she so quickly come to be this person that just six months ago was a bundle of joy that cried for milk and very quickly went back to sleep. Not only did she double her birth weight at four months of age and grew in length an extra six inches, but her brain has been multiplying nerve cells at a very rapid pace, also hard to measure.

The bond that you and your spouse have created with Maggie feels comfortable and secure, one that has been building since she was born. Whereas those initial days were fraught with fatigue, insecurity with not knowing what to do, and sometimes reacting in a panic, uncertain if her cry signaled a real hurt or she was just tired and ornery, you both now communicate with real purpose on how to take care of her and how to plan for the day. You both have now grown as a couple and feel more comfortable in your roles as parents. Interestingly enough, Maggie has picked up that you communicate with each other using words and facial expressions.

Speech Development

Speech development begins to manifest itself around four to six weeks of age with cooing. You probably remember how exhausted you felt that first month where all she did was wake up, cry, have her diaper changed, feed, burp and then she was back to sleep. After about two to four hours of sleeping, the cycle would repeat itself… 24 hours a day! You are giving and giving, and gradually become physically and emotionally tired from the lack of good sleep. Then, one day around four to six weeks of age, she socially smiles at you and coos. She is now giving back to you, and it feels wonderful! And so begins your mutual interaction where sometimes it felt like she was telling you of her wonderful day by rhythmically cooing in a sweet melodic tune.

Around four months of age, you might remember, she began to make “raspberry” sounds and spewing spit as she exercised her lips, her diaphragm, and her lungs to make sounds. By six months, she has now started to put two syllable words together without any special, social connotation: da-da-da-da, mum-mum-mum-mum or ba-ba-ba-ba. What’s interesting is that you have gotten excited by her calling out mum-mum-mum. She gradually will make a mental note that she gets your attention when she says that and will later, by nine months to one year of age, give a social meaning to it, and so begins the building of her vocabulary.

Cognitive Development

Another interesting aspect of her using her voice (with crying) is that she is cognitively learning how to solve problems. When crying at first was used as a means of survival (I am hungry), now she has been using it to get your attention. At this age, Maggie is beginning to expect responses from you and your spouse when she cries. In addition, she is learning that she can produce a response from either of you when she cries. Have you heard her “fake cry?” It is good to use proper language with the right tone when you respond to her, rather than talking down to her in a “baby voice.” She will learn to speak more clearly this way.

In addition to using her voice, she has been using her hands to better explore objects. She must mouth and taste them to begin to form concepts in her brain as to what these things are. She likes to touch or grab everything.

The world around her is very interesting as her vision has improved. A newborn’s vision is about 20/400 so they can perceive light, but everything is very blurry. Slowly they begin to form concepts in their brain about straight lines and round objects, to what is dark and bright, to eventually conceptualize objects in their brains. By 6 months of age, their vision is 20/20 and they can see clearly. You may have noticed how difficult it is to change her diaper as she wants to roll to grab a toy or grab your necklace. How about doing baths? Aren’t they so slippery when slathered with soap and they try to check the washcloth? Always a good idea to keep one hand on her for safety while you are trying to do something with her.

With improved vision and having had six months to form a strong bond with you, she has started to recognize you as the person who is there to save the day! In addition, with all her touching, she has been curious about your face, eyes, ears, nose, and lips to begin to form personal awareness. This is the beginning of “object permanence” where you could disappear for a moment, and she knows you are just around the corner. Along with this concept, she will soon start to experience “stranger anxiety” when seeing other people (especially if they want to hold her) and may start protesting when you have these separations.

Gross Motor Development

Along with her interest to investigate everything comes her desire to acquire these objects. Movement, and the progression of gross motor development, goes in a very predictable fashion from the head down to the toes. First, muscle strength and coordination began at the neck and by four months of age, you might remember, you could pull her up from laying on her back and she did not have any more head lag. In addition, if you placed her on her tummy, she could put weight on her elbows and raise up her neck. The chest was off the table a little, but her stomach was flat on the table. Now, at six months, she can push up with her hands and raise her chest and tummy, but her pelvis and legs are flat on the floor. She has learned to “army crawl” or creep. If you stand her up, she stiffens her legs and pretends to jump, although her feet never leave the ground. Rolling over was a reflex at four months, sometimes startling her, but she does it now routinely. You can prop her up in a sitting position, but she does need her arms to “tripod” herself. If she tries to reach for an object, she falls easily because the tripod fell apart. She is not able to get to a sitting position by herself, but she will soon learn around nine months of age how to sit up by herself when she has learned how to crawl.

Her life is filled with frustration as she continues to exercise daily trying to accomplish these milestones, but it is in a way, a “happy frustration” because she is meeting goals. As part of this wonderful bond, you have formed with her, you have learned to be sensitive to her needs and know when to come to her aid when she seems defeated.

Fine Motor Development

Touching and grabbing to form concepts in her brain has been part of her development since birth. To develop her fine motor skills, however, she first had to get rid of her “primitive reflexes,” reflexes that she was born with, including the grasp reflex. By two months of age, she started to open her hands and was transferring objects from one hand to the other by four months of age. When she grabs objects, she uses the “rake” approach where she uses all her fingers and hand to grab an object. It will be exciting for you when she is around nine months of age, and you see her using her thumb and index finger as a pincer grasp to get an object.

So now that you are done reminiscing about her development for the past six months, it’s time to enjoy your visit with your parents. We hope you have a nice Memorial Day weekend!

A health article from Dr. John Spitzer, a pediatrician at Bronson Primary Care Partners (first published on the Bronson Health web site)


  • Touchpoints: Your Child’s Emotional and Behavioral Development by T.Berry Brazelton, M.D.  A Merloyd Lawrence Book, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992.
  • Solving Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, M.D. Simon & Schuster, 1985.